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Astrobiology is a branch of biology concerned with the origins, early evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. Astrobiology considers the question of whether extraterrestrial life life exists, and how humans can detect it if it does. The term exobiology is similar.

Astrobiology makes use of molecular biology, biophysics, biochemistry, chemistry, astronomy, exoplanetology and geology to investigate the possibility of life on other worlds and help recognize biospheres that might be different from that on Earth. The origin and early evolution of life is an inseparable part of the discipline of astrobiology. Astrobiology concerns itself with interpretation of existing scientific data, and although speculation is entertained to give context, astrobiology concerns itself primarily with hypotheses that fit firmly into existing scientific theories.

This interdisciplinary field encompasses research on the origin of planetary systems, origins of organic compounds in space, rock-water-carbon interactions, abiogenesis on Earth, planetary habitability, research on biosignatures for life detection, and studies on the potential for life to adapt to challenges on Earth and in outer space.

Biochemistry may have begun shortly after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, during a habitable epoch when the Universe was only 10–17 million years old. According to the panspermia hypothesis, microscopic life—distributed by meteoroids, asteroids and other small Solar System bodies—may exist throughout the universe. According to research published in August 2015, very large galaxies may be more favorable to the creation and development of habitable planets than such smaller galaxies as the Milky Way. Nonetheless, Earth is the only place in the universe humans know to harbor life. Estimates of habitable zones around other stars, sometimes referred to as "Goldilocks zones," along with the discovery of hundreds of extrasolar planets and new insights into extreme habitats here on Earth, suggest that there may be many more habitable places in the universe than considered possible until very recently.

Current studies on the planet Mars by the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers are searching for evidence of ancient life as well as plains related to ancient rivers or lakes that may have been habitable. The search for evidence of habitability, taphonomy (related to fossils), and organic molecules on the planet Mars is now a primary NASA and ESA objective.

Selected article

Earth is the only planet currently known to support life
Planetary habitability is the measure of a planet's or a natural satellite's potential to develop and sustain life. Life may develop directly on a planet or satellite or be transferred to it from another body, a theoretical process known as panspermia. As the existence of life beyond Earth is currently uncertain, planetary habitability is largely an extrapolation of conditions on Earth and the characteristics of the Sun and Solar System which appear favourable to life's flourishing—in particular those factors that have sustained complex, multicellular organisms and not just simpler, unicellular creatures. Research and theory in this regard is a component of planetary science and the emerging discipline of astrobiology.

Selected biography

Schulze-Makuch Dec2010.JPG
Dirk Schulze-Makuch is currently a professor at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Washington State University. He is best known for his publications on extraterrestrial life, being coauthor of four books on the topic: A One Way Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet (2011), We Are Not Alone: Why We Have Already Found Extraterrestrial Life (2010), Cosmic Biology: How Life could Evolve on Other Worlds (2010), and Life in the Universe: Expectations and Constraints (2004). In 2012 he published with David Darling Megacatastrophes! Nine Strange Ways the World Could End.

Schulze-Makuch's research interests and publications range from astrobiology, hydrobiology, archaeology, to cancer. To the viewer he may be best known for his work in astrobiology, in particular the possible existence of life on Venus, Mars, Titan, Europa and Io. His book Life in the Universe (with L. N. Irwin) considers alternative physiologies for extraterrestrial life.

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Arecibo message.svg
Credit: Arne Nordmann

The Arecibo message was broadcast into space a single time via frequency modulated radio waves at a ceremony to mark the remodeling of the Arecibo radio telescope on 16 November 1974. This image uses color to highlight its separate parts. The actual binary transmission carried no color information.




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